All posts filed under “Sweets

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Connaught Afternoon Tea: Shall We Eat Flowers?

Yes, again!!!

 

A week ago, thanks to Miles Irving, I coerced me into putting a bunch of elderflower in my mouth..

.. last weekend Helene Darroze stuffed me with many pretty flowers.

 

I did not go to HD’s 2-starred restaurant but her cosy offshoot Espelette at the Connaught Hotel for a late afternoon tea. Not my first time (and it wouldn’t be my last despite the flowers). I love its relaxed, minimalist setting. Very conservatory-like. Bright and airy. Beautiful chandelier of fresh flowers. Lots of interesting Mayfair characters dodging on Mount Street and on their way to Scott’s.

 

A little bit about tea at the Connaught. I don’t know whether it was because of the French chef manhandling the kitchen or what. The exuberant tea feast there seems to have slipped from The UK’s Tea Guild Award, of which the winner of this year is Claridge’s. For me and my other bib, the Connaught tea is always a stunner. The tea menu features a lot of infusion – Paris blend, Pomegranate, and our most favourite the “spooky” Lapsang Souchong. Distinctly smoky and to brew as dark as an XO beef stock. I am caffeine intolerant but I’d rather die than not have a sip.

The nibbles, like the tea list, are not all the way English but with many delightful French twists. Say, imported preserve by Christine Ferber, the Queen of Jam in France!! As you may expect, tea at Espelette does not come cheap. You can only go for a set with or without Champagne of your choice. Sans alcohol, it is £35 per head. Unlimited refill but I never venture as far as asking for takeaway. The trick to make this worth the money is that you fast all day, go for the tea and eat to include your supper.

And of all the weekends I had to stumble into Helene Darroze’s special weeks of Chelsea Flower Show-inspired afternoon tea… (and if I may add, it is always the British annual event I couldn’t give a d**m about!)

First plate..

Many sandwiches of flowery inspirations. Club Sandwich with Salted Cod, Brandade, Chorizo, Wild Garlic Flower; Smoked Salmon, Lemon Cream, Fennel Flower; Brioche of Duck Foie Gras with Rhubarb Chutney, Elderflower; Foccaccia of Babaganoush, Spring Veg, Borage Flower. All marvellous. The bread was top-notch. The flower not only add scent but also flavours. My heart drummed when I bit into the babaganoush with the rather cleansing borage. The foie gras was the table’s favourite.

 

The cakes (also keeping closely with the flower theme) by the French lady were to die for…

Loved the triangle sponge sandwich of pistachio with peach and jasmine ganache. A burst of o-so-light cream from the blackcurrant and violet choux pastry. All great (but too filling). Service could have been more attentive as I had to wave for the table to be cleared.

And to make myself one step closer to diabetes there came the scones – baked to order – plain and apricotted. Light and flaky. Not necessarily better than scones from Claridge’s or Brown’s Hotel. It was the jam by Ferber that set the Connaught apart. There was not just one kind, two, three, four, but a jam menu featuring 10+ kinds to choose from. We went for Pineapple Vanilla, Raspberry and Quince. Paper thin ribbons of pineapple in vanilla light syrup – it was the best thing that happened to my life recently. Period.

More horrific plates of calories followed – Rose and Raspberry Cake + Chocolate Cake. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them, let alone taking a picture.

Threw my napkin.. gave up all manners.. shouted for a takeaway box..

They actually gave me two! Plastic ones. As glamourous as one would get from a Chinatown eatery. Surely the staff was not often asked for takeaway boxes. I didn’t mind and to restore our decency I got two jars of Christine Ferber to go as well. £10 each.. worth my pennies. They are.

Should you or should you not pay £35 for this? Go for it if you either have the stomach of an elephant or the sweet teeth of 10 million ants…or both. This is, after all, the agreed price range of 5* hotel afternoon tea. Darroze soars above the others in her experimentation with flavours. After the Chelsea Flower theme, the sandwiches will be deflowered but still deliciously unconventional. Smoked salmon with wasabi cream, so to speak. The pastries are always too good to be true. A sort of French magic (as you know I suffer from Francophilia). BUT if you take a personal dislike of all things French, I’d recommend Claridge’s or Brown’s. They champion the English tradition and you’ll get your slice of Vicky Sponge and Dundee Cake.

Enough sugary torture for me..

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

 

ESPELETTE

The Connaught Hotel
Carlos Place
Mayfair
London
W1K 2AL

Tel. 020 3147 7100

www.the-connaught.co.uk/espelette.aspx

Espelette at The Connaught  on Urbanspoon

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Do I Care For Cupcakes?

Do I care for cupcakes?

No, I don’t. I seriously don’t.

I can never understand the cupcake allure. My other bib has it that I suffer from Francophilia and my heart only beats at the sight of good madeleines.. very well diagnosed indeed!

That said, them cupcake shops that have mushroomed recently in London invoked an attention of sort, and so have proliferated a good number of cupcake cookbooks. Hummingbird Bakery came to my mind, so to speak.

Do mainstream cupcakes cut it for me? Let’s have a look…

Hummingbird Bakery
Hummingbird Bakery on Urbanspoon

Everybody’s favourite?

Strictly not mine. I found their cupcakes stodgy. The one I had was this carrot (cup)cake with walnut (£2.65). Not aggressively spiced, adequately carroty. Heavy and the frosting over-sweetened. The Pumpkin Whoopie Pie, less attractive in appearance and more expensive (£3), was a far more superior alternative.

You can’t eat both by themselves. A cup of tea/coffee is needed to wash the sugar off your system.

Moving on to Cox Cookies & Cake on Brewer Street…

Cox Cookies & Cake on Urbanspoon

If you get over the seedy neon lights (that make Cox look as if the place sold cocks not cakes) and the sexy novelty looking cupcakes, theirs are not that bad. The Muscle Mary one (at unreasonable £4) – hazelnut and praline – was quite lovely. The cake was lighter than Hummingbird but the icing not as smooth.

The classic range is cheaper (£2.50). The triple choc chip with crunchy malt balls was good. Full of texture and more sweet than bitter.

Ella’s Bakehouse at Covent Garden Piazza looks a girly gimmick. Sparkles and all.

Ella's Bakehouse on Urbanspoon

Surprisingly theirs are very good. Light. Moist. Great consistency from the icing. Flavours are not out of this world, but it fares well. The regular sized Nutella (£2.50) was ok – I don’t mind reprising – and the miniature vanilla (£1) was just the right amount of cupcake and flavour combination I’d like to put in my mouth.

That said, the flavours are subtle and do not sparkle at the tongue..

My least favourite of the West End = Sweet Couture on New Row.

I had Red Velvet – classic American red sponge with cream cheese frosting – and Vanilla, all at £2.35. All dry, heavy, unpleasant. Say, both did not taste fresh whatsoever.

Primrose Bakery

Primrose Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Very much like Ella’s Bakehouse, Primrose Bakery is a cupcake institution. Girly, pretty. Grannies will love them and so will their little nieces. The bakery ambiance is very dreamy 60s. Theirs (£1.85) are not as light as Ella’s but the flavours – carrot cake below – are a lot more pronounced. Decent frosting, too.

This brings me to the surprise cupcakes my other bib tailor-made for my last Christmas. Not by himself but through a custom made site.

.. BIG CAKE LITTLE CAKE ..

They specialise in all-you-want-to-have-them-look cupcakes. Jam filled. A variety of unusual (and usual) flavour combination. Loved the Cherry Blossom-looking strawberry-filled, Victoria sponge mini cupcakes. Great madeleine-like texture. Delectable icing. Varying degrees of strawberry-ness..

£18 for 2 dozens.

And the mint choc X-mas cupcakes. Bittersweet + minty. Very gooey sponge. Glistening frosting.. super fresh!!

*licking lips*

This could convert me into cupcake-ism.

My cupcake ranking?

Big Cake Little Cake 9/10
Primrose bakery 8/10
Ella’s Bakehouse 7/10
Cox Cookies & Cake 6/10 (too expensive)
Hummingbird Bakery 6/10 (too heavy)
Sweet Couture 5/10

And the Candy Cakes?

They look toxic .. neither keen on look nor taste!

POSTSCRIPT

Came across Treacle Cupcakes on Columbia Road the day after I published the post. Really good miniature lemon (£1). Fresh spongy sponge. Velvety frosting. Well balanced flavours. Thumps up for me ^_^

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Cocomaya: A Brief Encounter

I was standing next to Colbeh but my eyes strayed from its fiery clay oven to this little shop of sugary curiosity just opposite, Cocomaya. To cross the street or not was totally not a question. My legs did their job before my brain could even rationalise or my eyes checked there were no cars coming (highly not recommended).

Inside there was a big bird, a communal table and an exquisite array of chocolate made at the premise. I thought I was teleported back to Bruges Ambiance was, in my words, a Sketch Parlour after being tidied. Eclectic, classy and with a lot of decorative teapots, the sort of decor my dad wouldn’t mind basking in for an hour or so and the sort of chocolate he would indulge in and dream away his diabetes. There were loose chocolate truffles to be boxed and the packaged ones that would make lovely novelty gifts. the flavours utilising many familiar British flavours were not too daring but sounded tempting enough. I picked up a few including star anise, cinnamon, green tea, Bramley apple and a couple more.

Hopping into the other room of Cocomaya, I came across, well, a lot more. The “next door” was a deli with decent selections of cakes. I picked up some mini madeleines – better than Princi but nowhere near St John Bread & Wine or Ble Sucre – and mini financiers – tastier than the madeleines but pricy.

The salad offerings looked fresh but quite traditional. There were some quiche too which I was keen to go back for. And while waiting for my bill, my eyes sparkled at the rows of Alain Millait’s juice and nectar. This could be my second choice for juice shopping: the selection at Gauthier Wine Shop – inside Gauthier Soho – was more intriguing. Yellow tomato juice and strawberry nectar…

And this was my desserts for the evening. Taste-wise, it was half way to
Bruges

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

COCOMAYA

12 Connaught Street
London
W2 2AF

Tel. 020 7706 2770

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St John Bakery (for Early Birds Only!)

Early Saturday morning.

One quiet street.

Two zombies – moi et my other bib.

On the way to one ambiguous location in SE1. Your guess was right. It was “ambiguous” as in I didn’t have the last bit of the postcode. I only knew, from my other bib and an unconfirmed source of information from the St John reservation line, there would be custard doughnuts providing I got there early enough.

I finally made it, before I dozed off on the street, to the Archway 72, the holy site of St John Bakery, a wholesale HQ of bread sans wine, the gastronomic myth and mystery of the custard doughnuts. My own exaggerations. Noted.

Despite the clock that struck 9ish, this pop-up bakery was packed. Local punters and Borough Market regulars had, evidently, followed the smell of freshly made bread and lined up for their order. Looking at this eye boggling display of bread – from sourdough, rye to raisin bread – I could vouch this was carb for all heavenly occasions.

I glanced left for the doughnuts. At 9am, I seriously couldn’t think “bread”. And, f**k it, there was just one left!!!????

NOT

False alarm. There were a handful left, about ten from a massive tray. I couldn’t quite work out my own calculation but I thought we purchased six of them to share among ourselves. Though neither of us tried the doughnuts before, we could tell from the look that they’d be gorgeous. Look at that piped-to-burst custard on the fluffy buns..

We also gave the Eccles cakes a go. “To go,” I mean. And also the brownie and a loaf of raisin bread. I well indeed made the most of getting up early.

I couldn’t resist one, on my way out. The piece, despite the size, was light and only lightly coated with sugar. As I bit into it, the doughnut squirted this ethereal custard all over my palm and right down my throat. Sweet and vanilla flavoured. The bun was texture perfect. This was finger licking gorgeous. I licked and licked.. I’ll spare the detail for the rest.

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Back home, a few hours later, we were slicing this bun. It was well packed with raisin. Very chewy. So I took my gadget out and butter my toasted bread.

Seriously? I couldn’t love this more.

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Enough said,

My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.

ST JOHN BAKERY

Saturdays Only!

Archway 72
Druid Street
London
SE1 2DU

www.stjohnbakerycompany.com

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Grazing the “Fashion” Scene

What is “fashion” and what is “fashionable”? Everybody, it seems, interprets those terms differently. I do admit I have a hard time editing content for my London “Fashion” Eat fortnight. If “fashion” suggests “trend” and “fashionable” means “trendy”, we will only be strictly talking about great food with great ambiance populated by fat and skinny bastards like us, won’t we? But, if we take into account the “fashion” and “fashionable” folk and what they actually eat, we will be talking about skipping meals, skimming carb, body conscious or mere cheap eat (so money can be spent elsewhere on clothing and accessories). And, what about London Fashion Week A/W 11-12? It’s, as usual, held at Somerset House and other scattering sites around Covent Garden. Should I also be thinking about where to flash eat but in style to fit my LFW busy schedule, too? So, my more or less London Fashion Eat first post will give you the sites where “fashion” and “food” converge. Have a look and decide for yourself which of “scene” you are into!

(1) THE CARAMEL ROOM, BERKELEY HOTEL

Caramel Room (The Berkeley Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Fashion couldn’t be materialised into food as literally as this. The Berkely’s much talked about Pret A Portea features afternoon tea menu inspired by recent fashion trends and major designer’s labels. Say, you’ll get Zac Posen, Alexander McQueen and Christian Laboutin on your fine china manufactured by Sir Paul Smith. This is not the kind of traditional afternoon tea as one would imagine. While there are still scones and jam and finger sandwiches, the actual highlight is the innovative patisserie. This comes with a tag explicating which cakes are inspired by what. Novelty? Yes, exactly. Personally, I don’t think it’s a mere gimmick but I’d rather have a solid, traditional afternoon tea fix at, say, Brown’s Hotel, the Connaught or Claridge’s, where I can get a slice of Dundee cake or Victoria Sponge. The very proper ones, I mean.

(2) SKETCH THE PARLOUR

Sketch - the Parlour on Urbanspoon

This multi-million project by Pierre Gagnaire has turned an instutition itself after 3-4 years. It is still hip though its iconic egg shell toilets ooze unappetising smell. Years ago, I thought Sketch did the best ever scones in London – light, fluffy and butter-perfect! Now? Well, perhaps due to its proximity to Oxford Street, the funky Gothic-Eclectic decor at the Parlour has attracted the high-street folk than the high fashion fab. The service is laissez-faire, which on this occasion, can be translated into English as unengaging and “let the diners be”.

The afternoon tea is still decent, but considering that it costs £27 per head with no refill, I’d rather go somewhere else and pay a little extra for unlimited sandwiches, cakes and choices of tea. At the Parlour, they do only a pot with no hot water refill. Standard kinda fingers sandwiches, not particularly deep-filled to £27 or enough to balance off the heavy carb. The cakes by Gagnaire are probably ones of the finest in the world – only perhaps outdone by the other Frenchie Pierre (Herme). I quite enjoyed the coconut madeleine but found the canele too rock solid I needed a fist to break. The scones – you’ll get two each – used to be better and are not so stuffy as they are now. And, there was only one choice of fruit scones. The jam of raspberry and orange marmalade was, for the former, sour beyond redemption and, for the latter, bitter beyond .. jam! I was having this last Saturday and wasn’t quite sure if I was actually having scones with jam or with unripe fruit. Enough said, really …

Oh, don’t forget to check out the loo. It’s rather coo..l. That said, as there is no ventilation within the egg shell cubible, you need to pray a bit that the one getting in before you do not leave behind the foul aroma of tea – sorry!- “wee”.

Next!

(3) ROSE BAKERY, DOVER STREET MARKET

After all the bitching, this is my pick of grazing food. Rose Bakery is a much unheard of, least written about cafe. It is a Parisian import tucked in one small corner at the top floor of Dover Street Market. If the weather’s good, you can opt for outdoor seating. Though the view isn’t one of the most stunning, it is one of the most neighnourly. You’ll get to see Mayfair from a point of view of tranquility! There are also a lot of art and fashion magazines to browse, while waiting for your hunger fix.

Wait! Maybe I should say something about Dover Street Market, which itself is an exclusive, rarely spoken about concept fashion store, the outpost of Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons label. Yes, you walk into the place and there are these people who are dressed to inspire – or simply make you feel fashionably inferior – and sell items that will cost you at least £100 per piece. Rose Bakery, funny enough, is a subversion of all this. Cheap, organic, health-conscious, minimalist food. Think Canela but without the freaking microwaves to warm food up, or enormous quiche a whole family can feast on. Still, the crowd at Rose Bakery is the fashion-minded upper crust and many Mayfair locals.

The humble menu at Rose Bakery is either prepared raw or with the help of one massive oven. Expect really colourful salad options, some of which are super-good; others underseasoned; but they are all very fresh. They also do Specials of the Day, such as Cottage Pie, Mushroom Risotto and Soups.

And my fix? Bacon quiche which was so perfectly cooked and flavoursome. The egg and bacon mixture had this heavenly fluffy, well-risen texture; the cherry tomatos bursting their juice; and the base was just crispy. It came with a salad with light vinegar dressing. I also asked for their Gluten Free Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie. Very moist, leaning towards chocolaty sweetness than bitterness, and with with grainy bites of hazelnut to trigger my palate.

That’s it. In case you want to see the fashion folk in action, you might want to loiter at Tom’s Deli at Somerset House. Great selection of sandwiches and cakes and its side windows just overlook the back stage entrance of LFW main catwalk! Link here x

Enough said,

My head rating for Pret A Portea at the Berkeley Hotel says, “7 out of 10″.

for Sketch the Parlour says, “6 out of 10″.

for Rose Bakery Dover Street Market says, “9 out of 10″.

My heart rating for Pret A Portea at the Berkeley Hotel says, “7 out of 10″.

for Sketch the Parlour says, “5 out of 10″.

for Rose Bakery Dover Street Market says, “9 out of 10″.

CARAMEL ROOM, BERKELEY HOTEL

Gound Floor, Berkeley Hotel
Wilton’s Place
Knightsbridge
London
SW1X 7RL

Tel. 020 7201 1699

www.the-berkeley.co.uk

SKETCH THE PARLOUR

9 Conduit Street
London
W1S 2XG

Tel. 020 7659 4500

www.sketch.uk.com

ROSE BAKERY DOVER STREET MARKET

Top Flr Dover Street Market
17-18 Dover Street
London
W1S 4LT

Tel. 020 7518 0680

www.doverstreetmarket.com

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The Madeleine Hunt!

MADELEINE!!!

Yes, I am obsessed with madeleine and in London, oddly enough, I have had my best madeleine moment at one extremely British establishment St John Bread and Wine. During my last trip to Paris, I was keen to hunt for the perfect madeleine.

Day 1:

My little research first directed me towards this little, unassuming patisserie in the 12th Arrondissement called Ble Sucre. Chef-owner Fabrice Le Bourdat, who worked alongside legendary chefs in the like of Ducasse, Bristol and Daniel Boulud, baked everything from biscuits, viennoiserie to fancy cakes, and walking in, I became extremely dazzled by multi-coloured gateau galore!

I had to stop my arms from reaching out for sweets–seriously!!–and focused on what I was there for, the madeleine. There was one other reason I should not go for cakes at the time, too, which was that my meal at L’ Astrance was coming up in an hour. Damn it!

So, the madeleine? A bag of four madeleine–the other one was already in my mouth!–baked in the early morning, cost just about €4. Very reasonable price, I’d say. Actually the pretty cakes there were also priced not to send you away with a heart attack, though overindulgence might result in life-changing diabetes. Taste-wise, the Ble Sucre madeleine had this slightly burnt fragrance, which I found very pleasant to the nose; it was also coated with a thin layer of sugar, which not only added extra sweetness but also crunchy texture. And so my verdict went: the Ble Sucre madeleine was Fantastic with a capitalised F!!

Day 2:

I had a head against heart dilemma of going back to Ble Sucre and of getting on with my other madeleine destination. The head prevailed, and I roamed toward La Grande Epicerie de Paris, one massive food hall adjacent to Le Bon Marche. There were enough arrays of mouth-watering cakes and sweets to throw myself off balance and crash into the glass counter!!

Yet, my eyes were not astray long enough; and seconds later I located the Grande Epicerie madeleines. Why? Because their madeleines were gigantic, almost three times the size of the Ble Sucre!! And considering I was there just after 10am, their madeleines were really flying off the counter.

 

Instead of grab-and-go, I was told to dash upstairs to the Cafe at Le Bon Marche, where these madeleines were served warm. Et, voila!

Tucking in, I found the texture to be spongy, soft and oozing buttery aroma. It, however, did not have as much flavour compared to Ble Sucre, and the gargantuan size worked against its goodness by giving too much and leaving nothing else I could crave for. And the verdict went: “decent” with a lower-case “d”.

The ultimate question was: did the French madeleine outdo my British madeleine from St John? Ble Sucre came close to beating it. Actually if the Ble Sucre ones were fresh out of the oven, St John would have been history. Gosh! Better finish this post now before I get even more hungry >_<

 

Enough said,

My head and heart rating for Ble Sucre shots, “10 out of 10″.

My head and heart rating for Ls Grande Epicerie de Paris says, “7 out of 10″.

BLE SUCRE

Square Trousseau
7, rue Antoine Vollon
Paris 75012
France

Tel. +331 43 40 77 73

Metro: Ledru-Rollin

LA GRANDE EPICERIE DE PARIS

38 Rue de Sèvres
Paris 75007
France

Tel. +331 44 39 81 00

www.lagrandeepicerie.fr

Metro: Sevre-Babylone